We’re but a few weeks away from receiving the green light to wear our white shoes, but in the kitchen and at the farmers’ market, it already feels like summer. Bakers get a little greedy this time of year. Rhapsodizing over rhubarb while cradling quarts of strawberries in our arms, we tap our kitchen clogs impatiently, dreaming of the first peaches. Giddy over the dizzying selection of fruit headed our way, we cannot wait another minute to tuck this bounty into pies, tarts and crumbles. Without reaching too far beyond the kitchen, one of the hidden gems of spring and summer baking is probably lounging in the rear of your cabinet.
Cornmeal’s distinctive grit adds a satisfying crunch and hint of sweetness to warm weather bakes. Rhubarb’s vibrant punch (and strawberries that finally taste like strawberries) align perfectly with cornmeal. For those who think of cornmeal as a weighty, stodgy addition to pie crust, adding a hit of baking powder lightens things up.
As summer unfolds, an extra pie shell stashed in the freezer is a launch pad for any number of fruit-centric desserts. Rhubarb and its berry sidekick aren’t the only options to consider, but they certainly deserve a place at the picnic or patio table. Now go check on that lonely bag of cornmeal leaning against the all-purpose flour and make sure it’s still fresh; in the heat it’s a good idea to seal it up tightly, slide it into a Ziploc bag or tight lidded container and find space for it in the freezer. If unsure, best to start anew and while you’re out, might be worth replenishing your supply of Bain de Soleil; Memorial Day weekend arrives in less than fourteen days.
Makes enough for one double crust 9-inch or 10-inch pie
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup stone-ground cornmeal
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
2 sticks (1/2 pound) cold unsalted butter, cut Into 1/2-inch pieces
1/2 cup ice cold water + 1 teaspoon orange bitters (can substitute fresh lemon juice) see note*
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, salt and sugar. Add the cold butter pieces and use a spatula to coat the butter with the flour mixture. Use a bench scraper to cut the butter into the flour mixture until you have mostly pea-size pieces of butter with a few larger pieces. Combine the ice water with the bitters (or lemon juice). Drizzle about 2 tablespoons of the ice water mixture around the edge of the bowl, tossing the flour/butter mixture with a fork. Continue adding the ice water mixture, 2 tablespoons at a time, tossing the mixture until the dough comes together in a ball; there will be some floury bits remaining. Note* You may not use the total 1/2 cup of liquid; I generally stop at 6 tablespoons because the dough will continue to hydrate as it rests in the refrigerator. Once the mixture holds together when you pinch it with your fingers, gather it together, divide it in half and shape each half into a flat disc. Wrap each disc in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour before rolling out. The dough will keep refrigerated for up to 3 days or frozen for 1 month.